Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Review of Roderick Tweedy's The God of the Left Hemisphere: Blake, Bolte Taylor, and the Myth of Creation

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
“Satan thinks that Sin is displeasing to God he ought to know that Nothing is displeasing to God but Unbelief & Eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil” - William Blake, Descriptions of the Last Judgement

“They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
“Everything they do is done for people to see.
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs... on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” - Matthew 23:4,5,27

William Blake identifies the target of Jesus’s above comments as Urizen, "the embodiment of conventional reason and law." Tweedy's book updates Blake's message, identifying Urizen with "left-hemisphere dominance" in the jargon of today's neuroscience.

Urizen / left-hemisphere dominance is the polar opposite of neurosis. Urizen is abstract reason taken to the extreme. Instead of channeling energy, Urizen simply negates it, colonizing the human mind and turning humans into the passive followers of Reason’s laws.

Tweedy's hypothesis is that the past 10,000 years are the history of the left-hemisphere's / Urizen's rise to dominance achieved by handicapping the brain's right-hemisphere. In a fascinating passage, Tweedy writes:
If my central thesis is correct, then the rationalistic nature of this present book is itself the product of Urizenic reasoning power. For this whole interpretation is also based on left-brain processes, from its artificial “beginning” and temporal, linear-linguistic sequencing, to its abstract logocentric assertions, and finally, to its ultra-rationalistic conclusion that the “God” of religious texts is, logically speaking, simply the projection into “external” space of human brain functions. (p. 37)
Later, Tweedy quotes Ian McGilchrist, “the innate structures of the left hemisphere are, through technology, being incarnated in the world it has come to dominate.” Mechanical time keeping, introduced in 16th Europe, allowed us to objectify time. Wonderful! A new triumph for communication! But the time is not the now. We have forgotten how to subjectively experience time, forgotten how to simply be in the present moment. The present moment is nothing more than another “slice” of time that we pass through as thoughtlessly as a knife through butter. In this way we have restricted our conscious selves to alternating between reliving our past and scheduling our future, existing only in objectified time.

This rationalistic, Urizenic program represses the subjective pleasure of the present, so that we become addicted to objectified sources of pleasure. Whether it’s the acceptance felt through praise, the pride felt through personal acquisition, the superiority felt through rewards, the excitement felt through indulgence--addiction smothers subjective enjoyment.

This hyperactive inability to enjoy the present is the reason why cycles of addiction are so commonplace. We renounce one addiction only to replace it with another. Mystic Anthony De Mello explains, "When you renounce something, you’re tied to it. The only way to get out of this is to see through it. Don’t renounce it, see through it... If you’re hypnotized into thinking that you won’t be happy without this, that, or the other thing, you’re stuck. If you woke up, you’d simply drop the desire for it."

In an insightful passage from the book, Tweedy explains,
[W]hat lies behind the sheer control is terror: terror at being alive, at being human, at having emotions. The proposals of united nations, a world army, or a new world “Order”, under the banner of uniformity and unification, are logical extensions of this same Urizenic impulse. It cannot succeed, or rather it cannot succeed without massive human sacrifice, because, as Blake states, “One Law for the Lion & Ox” is not freedom and peace, but “Oppression”. (p. 212)
In this light, all of the hard-won, individual freedoms we have in Western societies are wasted if we do use them to create. Urizen can only conceptualize freedom as freedom from external restrictions. Reason should serve Imagination, not crush it. True freedom is rationally channeling imagination to create.

Madness is a crushed imagination's response to Urizen--reason dazzled, as Foucault put it. It is the swing in the other direction, away from the Urizen-dominated world we live in. Rather than assimilating into the world of conventional reason, madness prefers its rational capacities to be dazzled beyond conventions, to experience the infinite possibilities of thought.

Both sides of the mind are necessary to fully experience life. In Blake's words:
"Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence. From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason[.] Evil is the active springing from Energy." - The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Urizen is every bit as dangerous as a neurosis, but it is everywhere unregulated in our society. While Neurosis is stigmatized, Urizen is often rewarded and thus conditioned into us. We medicate neurosis into sedation or remission, while the Urizenic operate weapons, manage our workplaces, write our laws, and run our economy.

Urizen is immanent--neurosis, transcendent. Beauty, if Nietzsche is to be trusted, is primarily neither; it is the difficult marriage of the transcendent with the immanent. The narrow road is to walk the path between neurosis and conventional reason, so that both "worlds of possibilities" remain open.

Tweedy's book is a wake-up call, encouraging us to rationally channel our imaginations, and thus find the freedom to create beauty.

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